First Day Walk, with catbirds

Catbirds are abundant in Savannas Preserve right now.

I could hear them more than see them, but sometimes one or two would pop up out of the shrubs and palmettos and perch in plain sight.

Catbirds are gray with black caps and a telltale rusty red patch under their tails.

This is gallberry, in the holly family of plants.

A catbird’s diet is about 50% fruit and berries. They also eat a variety of insects, spiders, worms and ants.

Catbirds nest in much of North America and are winter visitors to Florida and Central America. It is likely that the Florida birds nest in the mid-Atlantic and New England and Midwestern birds head south to Mexico and beyond.

A lot of human snowbirds are flocking here this winter from other states. But there were no other cars in the small gravel parking lot of the southern entrance to Savannas Preserve State Park, off Jensen Beach Boulevard in Jensen Beach just after 8 a.m. this morning.

I had been up since 5 a.m. since I love mornings, new days, fresh starts, new years.

The Gray Catbird belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker.

(Have I mentioned how much I love Cornell Lab of Ornithology? They are my main source of bird knowledge and quotes via All About Birds. I support them with my annual membership . Or donate HERE to make a difference for the future of birds.)

The preserve was intensely peaceful this morning – just the sound of distant traffic and the close-by gentle mewing of these birds. (Sometimes the sound they make is more like the waah of a quiet-ish baby.)

It’s a mewing time of year for catbirds, not a singing time. In nesting season the males are as creative in their songs as other members of the mimid family.

Holly berries (food for catbirds) are Christmas-seasonal here in Florida too. I think this is Dahoon holly.

Here is where I took a detour off the main trail in search of the edge of a wetland and maybe a Wilson’s snipe, a bird that has been eluding my efforts to photograph it for a few years now.

New year, new bird was my plan. Alas! I did not find a snipe. So much for my Snipe hunt.

Low sun and a misty morning made spider webs visible. It’s been warm and humid for early winter.

Some webs were more geometric than others.

The edge of the first wetland was too muddy and so I tried a second trail that branched off the main trail.

The combination of crispy dry plant life and mud underfoot is characteristic of the lower-elevation seasonal wetlands in the Savannas.

I saw signs of wild pigs on my walk, and I found a couple of what looked like pig traps. There was a bit of grain left in this one, but the “gate” was held open with a strap and a couple of S hooks, so I’m not sure how the trap works.

Feral pigs are a problem in the Savannas and pretty much all of Florida.

…the problem can be traced to 1539 when Hernando DeSoto brought hogs into southwest Florida, and some of them found freedom in the New World. Nearly 500 years later, there are some 3 million descendants of these “pioneer pigs” across the nation.

Something made a slippery splash near here, like a small gator, big snake, maybe an otter. Or a small pig? I did not see it but I remained quite vigilant, stepping carefully, scanning near and far.

I believe this type of attention to our surroundings is something we are losing to screens and the Great Indoors, so I like to refresh my skills now and then.

When the trail degraded into a network of pig paths, all dug up and snout-rooted, I decided to backtrack to more comfortable walking.

One of the many problems caused by the pigs…

Rooting — digging for foods below the surface of the ground — destabilizes the soil surface, uprooting or weakening native vegetation, damaging lawns and causing erosion. Their wallowing behavior destroys small ponds and stream banks, which may affect water quality.

This is a yellow milkwort.

It was growing in the middle of one of the lesser-used trails I walked this morning. It’s a Florida native annual herbaceous wildflower, and so named because it was thought that milkwort growing in cow fields would cause cows to give more milk.

I think it looks like a little yellow fireworks explosion. Happy New Year!

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. – John Muir

3 thoughts on “First Day Walk, with catbirds

  1. What a wonderful post, Amy! Beautiful photos. What a coincidence that my last post was a Wilson’s Snipe and my post for tomorrow is about a Gray Catbird!
    And… I too am a very frequent user of all of Cornell Lab Of Ornithology‘s resources – love them!!!
    Have you ever been to their site in Ithaca?

    Like

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